Pleistocene re-wilding – a controversial topic

Posted by Nadya on Jun 19, 2011
I’ve been reading a fascinating forum thread on a Russian zoology forum about pleistocene re-wilding, and a discussion also popped up on “Save the Cheetah” page on Facebook today.
It really seems to polarise people, but I think it’s actually a really interesting idea from a scientific point of view.

The theory is that we humans are responsible for the extinction of the megafauna, and that the environment we know today isn’t what’s supposed to be here, and that food chains are broken and niches left empty because of species having gone extinct. Plants evolved thorns to protect themselves from large herbivores such as mammoths and mastodons, which are gone. Prey animals have adaptations to escape from large predators which are no longer there to hunt them. If not for our distant ancestors, these large creatures might still be around. In a way, we are responsible.

There is a VERY interesting experiment being done in Siberia right now, by a Russian scientist, Sergei Zimov. He is in the process of “re-wilding” a tundra, and turning it back into a savannah, not in terms of weather of course but in terms of ground cover, plants, and animals. He argues that the tundra environment there is now, was created in the absence of large herbivores – and by re-introducing large herbivores to the area, of species the same or similar to what was there in the Pleistocene, science is already seeing the effects of changes to that environment. Grasslands are coming back in these areas of Zimov’s experiment. So when/if someone manages to clone a mammoth, they will already have a suitable habitat to live in. :)

The other side of the coin is, of course, that we have messed with the environment enough as it is, that species have already adapted without those large herbivores and carnivores, and that we should protect what little pristine environment we have left. The only megafauna left now is in Africa, and it’s under threat.

I am all for protecting what we have, but a part of me would love to see humans restore what we screwed up – and to see mammoths roam the Siberian plains again…

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